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Crimes against English: Contractions

When I mention contractions, I am not referring to ladies in childbirth nor my hubby whose muscles contract at the mere thought of pulling out his wallet at the mention of a new designer handbag.  I am talking, of course, about two words that are combined and certain letters omitted.  We put an apostrophe where the letter or letters have become verbally redundant. Contrary to popular belief, they are not just thrown randomly in the general direction of the word.

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark that is used to either clarify contraction or designate possession.  I will deal with possession in a future blog.

After leaving college I worked for many years as a PA at director level and completed all of my RSA secretarial qualifications.  Therefore, most of my composition experience was using formal language in which you hardly ever use contractions.  I have since found that I feel uncomfortable using contractions in personal correspondence. To be perfectly honest I am not a great lover of contractions, because they often confuse.  I admit to using them in speech in informal situations but find myself unwilling to use them in my writing, which robs my correspondence of nuance and restricts my ability to change mood.

Therefore, it is a good idea for any writer to master and understand appropriate use of contractions in order to better express changes in tone.  This is especially true when writing dialogue or reported speech.

Word contraction in English can be traced back to the runic alphabet of Old English in the seventh century.  They contracted words such as is not, so I guess it is their fault the horror of the word isn’t, which is often turned into ain’t.

Here are the most notorious contractions in use today and if you think I have missed any, please drop me a line.

Aren’t = are not

Can’t = cannot

Couldn’t = could not

Didn’t = did not

Doesn’t = does not

Don’t = do not

Hadn’t = had not

Hasn’t = has not

Haven’t = have not

He’d = he had or he would

He’ll = he will or he shall

He’s = he is or he has

I’d = I had or I would

I’ll = I will or I shall

I’m = I am

I’ve = I have

Isn’t = is not

It’s = it is

It’ll = it will

Let’s = let us

Mightn’t = might not

Mustn’t = must not

Shan’t = shall not

She’d = she had or she would

She’ll = she will or she shall

She’s = she is or she has

Shouldn’t = should not

That’s = that is or that has

There’s = there is or there has

They’d = they had or they would

They’ll = they will or they shall

They’re = they are

They’ve = they have

We’d = we had or we would

We’re = we are

We’ve = we have

Weren’t = were not

What’ll = what will or what shall

What’re = what are

What’s = what is or what has

What’ve = what have

Where’s = where is or where has

Who’d = who had or who would

Who’ll = who will or who shall

Who’re = who are

Who’ve = who have

Won’t = will not

Wouldn’t = would not

You’d = you had or you would

You’ll = you will or you shall

You’re = you are

You’ve = you have

Put yourself to the test.

Rewrite the following sentences using contractions where you can:

  1. It is frowned upon to use contractions in formal writing, so do not do it.
  2. The food she had ordered was not at all like it looked on the menu.
  3. I would love to go to the cinema with you, but I have got to work late.
  4. What shall we do this weekend as we have not got much money.
  5. You might not like this quiz, but let us pretend that you do.

Rewrite the following sentences replacing the contractions with the words in full:

  1. He’d have bought that car, but he’d just lost his job.
  2. I couldn’t be bothered to finish this quiz it’s too hard, so I’ll wait for the answers tomorrow.
  3. I shan’t object if you get offered the promotion over me.
  4. You won’t want your dinner that I’m cooking if you carry on eating sweets.
  5. Where’s Jack now and where’s he been all morning?

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